(New York Jewish Week) — Among the 6,000 knitters descending on Times Square this week for a major fiber arts convention is a first-time attendee from Israel who hopes a shawl she made can counteract anti-Israel sentiment in the knitting community.
A mother of seven and a grandmother of two, Liza Rodrig, 48, is something of a handicraft and fashion icon in her own country. She has been on Israeli television, boasts a significant social media following and has even had her work featured on a virtual runway during Tel Aviv’s Fashion Week.
But Rodrig has never before been to Vogue Knitting Live, an extravaganza of fiber arts that features fashion shows, demonstrations, exhibits and a marketplace of luxury yarns and craft tools. She decided to make the trip after Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked southern Israel and plunged Israel into despair.
Armed with knitting needles and a deep belief that the craft “heals and fills the soul,” the Tel Aviv native began developing a new design soon after the attack. “The October 7 Shawl” is made of a cashmere-merino wool blend and mohair, knit into an elongated, triangular form that resembles the State of Israel. The shawl features a Star of David motif — and a seven-color gradient moving from black to to salmon to pink to white.
“I found myself choosing dark colors that slowly lighten — then I realized that this is what I want: to convey the message of what happened in Israel,” Rodrig said. “Oct. 7 — we didn’t think we would be able to get up from it — and how, little by little, optimism returns and therefore the colors become brighter.”
Rodrig will be showing off her design at an open house about Jewish knitting during Vogue Knitting Live as well as in a series of Zoom sessions in which knitters can create their own Oct. 7 shawls together as part of a community. (The events are organized by “Beautifully Jewish,” a monthly podcast on Jewish material culture from Tablet Magazine that this reporter co-hosts.)
Her participation in the trade show is welcome for Jewish knitters who say they have felt isolated and hurt by the reaction to Oct. 7 in what is typically a warm community, one that engages widely on social issues, not just on matters of skeins and stitches.
“I was stunned by the initial lack of support by the knitting community, which historically has been quick to jump on social issues,” said Sue Blumberg of Larchmont, New York. She said some community members posted online “anti-Israel rhetoric without ever acknowledging the atrocities of Oct. 7. … and I was so angry at the growing visibility of antisemitism in what had always been my safe haven, the knitting community.”
Instagram, the visual social network where much knitting conversation takes place, has been rife with fighting and disinformation over the Israel-Hamas war. Hateful comments piled up on posts that ordinarily would have drawn feedback about new patterns and projects. Some Jewish knitters decided to skip major events such as the NY Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York, out of fear that they would face emotional, verbal or even physical conflict. The dynamic has left lasting scars for some longtime knitters.
“Knitting had been a place I went to to buoy my spirits, lift up my heart. Right now, knitting feels equally fraught, equally painful, and that has been a hard place to find myself,” said Simone Heymann of Portland, Oregon. “It has been hard to feel so unwanted, so hated, amongst people I thought were ‘my people.’”
The division was not an online-only phenomenon. In Brooklyn, Lauren Gottlieb was part of a local knitting group for years and was stunned when members of her unit, all aware she was Jewish, didn’t text or call after Oct. 7.
“We just all watched a pogrom on TV! In 2023! I am not religious at all, don’t believe in God, but I am culturally Jewish — these women were at my son’s very small bar mitzvah but yet nobody thought to ask if I was OK,” she said.
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Gottlieb will attend her sixth Vogue Knitting Live this year — this time wearing an indelible mark of Jewish pride. “I will be sure I wear something off-the-shoulder to show off my new ‘We Will Dance Again’ tattoo,” she said, referring to a motto adopted by survivors of the Oct. 7 Nova music festival massacre in Israel. “It’s, to me, the way others wear a Jewish star necklace.”
Now, Rodrig’s scarf could become a shared symbol for the Jewish knitting community. Having struggled as a student with dyslexia, she discovered that her intelligence and creativity knew no bounds in the world of sticks and strings after her mother-in-law taught her to knit 20 years ago. She soon started designing her own knitting patterns and eventually launched Liza Wool, a home-based knitting, sewing, weaving studio and school.
Liza Wool is a partnership between Liza and her husband, entrepreneur Kfir Rodrig. The pair met two years after Liza’s first husband died in a tragic accident, leaving the young widow alone with their daughter. When Liza met Kfir’s mother, the gentle tapping sounds of her knitting needles drew Liza to learn to knit — and from there, her relationship with Kfir, and knitting, took flight. Within a year the two were married and by 2022, Liza’s knitting-lesson business outgrew their living room and into a boho craft oasis in their backyard.
The upgraded space is made up of a series of connected wood-paneled rooms – one for weaving, one for sewing – leading to a homey chalet lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with a wide array of colorful textured yarns. Rodrig’s colorful designs adorn dress forms around the room.
“Everyone who comes to our school feels that they are cut off and are in a kind of village, even though it is in the center of Ramat HaSharon,” Rodrig said, referring to the central Israeli city where the family lives.
She believes her family — the six kids still at home and yellow Labrador Retriever Lucas — who float in and out of the craft spaces contributes to the warm, welcoming vibe because “everyone feels the good atmosphere and all my students are a part of it,” she said.
That space turned into a respite after Oct. 7. With many Israelis turning to crafting to take a break from worry and bad news, Rodrig has had to add another table to accommodate all those who want to knit together.
Now, Rodrig is making her first trip to the Big Apple in 21 years, this time with a singular focus on the craft that saved her after the traumatic loss of her first husband. Her big dreams for the convention: meet knitwear design guru Shirley Paden-Bernstein, source new yarns for her shop in Ramat HaSharon and share her shawl with American Jews in need of support.
Though Rodrig’s new design is named The October 7 Shawl, she was thinking about the future when she designed it. Her journey to New York is meant to strengthen the American Jewish knitting community and give its members a way to wrap themselves in comfort.
”I asked for divine guidance on expressing the depth of my feelings,” she said, adding that the resulting design “mirrors the resilience of the Jewish community [and] encapsulates the journey from darkness to light.”